Health plan sign-ups on the rise in Mich.

By Jeff Karoub

Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) -- Amid the problems and political finger-pointing since the launch of online health care exchanges, Adnan Hammad sees progress.

The community health director at Dearborn-based nonprofit organization ACCESS said his staff has helped hundreds of people enroll in plans under the federal health care overhaul and educated thousands about the available options. That's despite technical problems that have plagued the site and frustrated consumers in Michigan and across the country since its Oct. 1 debut.

Glitches and delays persist, but they started to ease in the second week of the marketplaces -- envisioned as a 21st century portal to a health care law designed to provide insurance for people who don't have access to coverage on the job. Technical problems with the overloaded website frustrated consumers for days.

The exchanges launched as the federal government partially shut down. Republican leaders had demanded that votes to reopen the government be tied to dismantling President Barack Obama's health care law and cutting federal spending.

"I'm not a politician. ... I'm just seeing it from the human side," said Hammad, whose organization is one of four in Michigan sharing $2.5 million from the federal government to help people sign up for insurance. "It is just an exciting time for us to actually see all those families and children come to our doors and leaving happy ... saying, 'Hey, I'm going to have health insurance now.'"

Hammad said things have steadily improved and ACCESS has boosted the hours of the workers dubbed "navigators" to keep up with demand.

Still, the public's overall satisfaction with the exchanges is low, according to a survey conducted from Oct. 3-7.

The AP-GfK poll released last Thursday found just 7 percent of Americans saying the rollout of the health exchanges has gone well. The poll also found 40 percent of Americans said the launch of the insurance markets hasn't gone well, 20 percent said it's gone somewhat well and 30 percent didn't know what to say.

Among those who have actually tested out the system, three-quarters of those polled said they have experienced problems trying to sign up. Only about 1 in 10 succeeded in buying health insurance.

The survey of 1,227 adults with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points offers an early snapshot on use of the new exchanges. Michigan is among 36 states using the federal government's site,, which the Obama administration said has had millions of unique visitors. The administration has declined to release enrollment statistics, saying that will be done monthly.

Michigan officials have no control over the function of the marketplace, but the state's online premium estimator was used about 120,000 times between Oct. 1 and last Thursday. A state website with information about the federally controlled insurance exchange saw more than 14,000 visitors, and the volume of calls to a toll-free number still are above normal but have been tapering off, according to Department of Insurance and Financial Services spokesman Caleb Buhs.

"I am hopeful that the process will become easier as improvements are made to the federal system," Kevin Clinton, the department's director, said in a statement to The Associated Press. "Our department will continue to provide help for Michigan residents who have questions about health insurance through our website and call center."

For Hammad, progress is about more than overcoming technical issues. With each successful sign-up, he said, another person who lacked health insurance will be covered and the risks of otherwise untreated diseases such as diabetes or cancer decrease.

"I'm a believer that when human beings have access to health care ... chronic diseases are dealt with earlier," he said. "They will be happier human beings, happier individuals and will end up having healthier, better families, better communities and economies. I really tie health care to everything in life."

Published: Tue, Oct 15, 2013